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March 8, 2021

Sharing economy and community well-being

Dall’economia del possesso a quella dell’accesso

Un concetto vasto

‘One of the ten ideas that will change the world’ was how the UK newspaper The Times defined the sharing economy in an article dated March 2011. A decade has gone by and this peer-to-peer economic model has grown, with a multitude of similar definitions and different terms like the collaborative economy, gig economy and on-demand economy. This variety is due to the concept’s nature and its application to very different economic and social sectors has made it difficult to qualify it with a single term.

In a sharing economy, goods and services are shared on a peer-to-peer basis

The prestigious Oxford Dictionary introduced the term “sharing economy” only in 2015, defining it as “an economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either for free or for a fee, typically by means of the internet”. However, the easiest way to understand this concept is probably a practical example and many people identify Ebay as the original case history. Ebay is an online shopping and auction website launched by Pierre Omidyar in 1995 and can be said to be the first example of a sharing economy in the internet era. This marketplace perfectly personifies the sharing economy: individuals interact to buy goods and services from each other without having to go through a third party.

L’impatto del Covid sull’economia della condivisione

The fact that we are talking about the sharing economy gives us an idea of ​​how central this element is in the peer-to-peer economy. However, the concept of sharing has been made difficult, if not impossible, by the hygiene and social distancing measures introduced to counter Covid. The public health emergency’s impact has been so enormous that experts have theorised the sharing economy would stall or even end. Icons of this economy like Airbnb (the online portal for finding accommodation) and Uber (transport service) have suffered a severe backlash.

Airbnb resisted for some time continuing to generate profits thanks to a business model based on the rental fee, but then had to deal with one million cancellations and one billion refunds: a loss of USD322 million in the first months of 2019. A similar fate was faced by the well-known Uber transport service which in April 2019 saw its number of trips fall by almost 80%. In May 2019, two of the greatest examples of the collaborative economy found themselves implementing drastic cuts, laying off a quarter of their staff.

The value that consumers attach to sharing is growing

Alongside the representatives of the sharing economy negatively affected by the global pandemic, there are also those who paradoxically increased their turnover or found new opportunities during the crisis. In general, due to the lockdown and the consequent limitations on travel, online shopping and food delivery services have experienced a surge in business. Due to the closure of cinemas and public places used for live shows, video streaming services such as Netflix and Disneyplus have become the main source of entertainment with all streaming services recording an increase in use and subscriptions.

Dal principio di possesso al principio di accesso

There is a paradigm shift underlying the origin of the sharing economy: from the principle of ownership to that of access. The economist and sociologist Jeremy Rifkin delves into the phenomenon in his essay “The era of access”. While in the twenty-first century – characterised by hyperconsumerism – people defined themselves by the goods and money they possessed, the trend is now changing: people are increasingly defined by the goods and services they can access, by how and by what they can share, from the feeling of community and belonging. The efficiency and connection possibilities offered by the internet have increased the convenience and ease of access to goods. Faced with the option of choosing between ownership and shared access to goods and services, the consumer favours the latter by virtue of the great importance attached to the social needs satisfied in interacting with other consumers.

Internet and the access economy are the drivers of a new social revolution

Perseguire il benessere collettivo

Well-being is often traced back to the personal dimension of the individual, however it is not independent of the social, cultural and environmental context. The sharing economy takes into account the collective dimension and was conceived as a more sustainable alternative economic system. Less pollution, redistribution and reuse are key features whereby the collaborative economy reduces the impact of production, the extent of inequalities and the unequal allocation of resources.

We are moving towards a dematerialisation of places and products. The move away from the physical dimension emphasised by the public health emergency is becoming a general trend of the economy: physical spaces are surpassed by digital networks, material products by services. The object of exchange is no longer so much a physical product, but an experience. The increase in the use of on-demand streaming services during the pandemic is an example of this. We are witnessing a weakening of the concept of private property in an economic system in which the focus becomes access to resources, that is, the guarantee of availability of shareable goods and services.

Sharing becomes a fundamental value for the use of a service

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